'I did a service and it saved lives' - Sheffield reservist shares story of over 30 years with the British Army

Bob Steer has several operational tours under his belt, having been a reservist for the British Army for over 30 years.

Thursday, 31st May 2018, 9:38 am
Updated Thursday, 31st May 2018, 5:02 pm
WO2 Bob Steer, an Army reservist, pictured at the Field Hospital, in Sheffield.

Despite facing trauma first hand, he is now encouraging people to sign up for a fulfilling career as an Army Reserve.

Originally from Gleadless Valley, he joined the cadets in 1973 at the age of 13 but life got in the way when he came to join the forces after school, instead becoming a foreman at a cutlery firm in the city.

WO2 Steer on one of several tours

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Eventually, in 1989, he followed his dream and became a combat medic with the reserves, but it wasn't a path that came naturally.

He said: "I wanted to a trade, and I wanted to get something out of it. I had no medical skills, but they taught me everything."

Becoming Warrant Officer Class 2 Steer, Bob first served in the Gulf War and in 2003 was sent back to the area to work in a field hospital in Iraq.

"I had never really done anything like that properly, it was really interesting," Bob said.

WO2 Steer was a combat medic working with trauma teams and in theatres

"I was part of a trauma team with a doctor and a couple of nurses. My job was see to casualties and keep them alive.

"I was the one who administered the first initial aid when they came in from helicopters. At the start of the war most of the casualties were Iraqis caught up in the fighting, some of them were British and American soldiers too.

"It was chaos. There was such an adrenaline rush because we were so undermanned so it was all hands on deck, you had to do things out of your comfort zone.

"I had a lot of responsibility. I was also in charge of all the battlefield ambulances, and helicopter landings to guide them in with casualties."

WO2 Steer was in charge of battlefield ambulances

Bob served six months in Iraq helping save lives before returning in 2004 again to work in the same field hospital.

Unbeknown to his family, Bob later volunteered to go to Baghdad at the height of the fighting in the desert of Helmand Province.

He said: "We went from being in a fairly secure location in Iraq, to being on the front line in Baghdad, but I'd joined to do it. I told my family that they'd asked me to go.

"At the time I had a wife and three daughters who were quite young, they were worried enough as it was that I was there. They didn't need to know that at the time."

WO2 Steer helped land helicopters bringing casualties to be treated by the trauma team

Bob spent half of his time working as part of the trauma teams, and the other half working in operating theatres.

"We were really busy, to the point that sometimes you couldn't cope. We only had two operating tables, it was bedlam," he said.

Speaking on the the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan, he said: "In Afghanistan most casualties were ours, some of them with horrific injuries, we were working hard trying to keep these lads alive. I don't think we lost anybody who came through that door. At the time Camp Bastion was best trauma centre in the world, our level our care was second to none. We had the top surgeons working to save lives.

"Working at camp bastion it was like a city itself, it was relatively safe. When we went out on streets of Baghdad, you could sense that they didn't want you there, a lot of the residents didn't see we were there for them.

"Even though I had no medical background initially, when you've got a queue of people waiting to have their lives saved, if you don't do something it's not going to happen. I had trained previously to do it, but it was completely different doing it in a classroom compared to in a desert and in a war zone. It was a steep learning curve."

Bob, now 58, served his last tour in Afghanistan in 2011, instead turning to a quieter life in Kimberworth, Rotherham with his wife.

But if it was up to him, he says he would keep working on the front line: "You can't go through that experience and it not have some effect on you," he said.

"But if I had my way I'd stop in another 30 years. It's in my blood. Not to sound sadistic but I've always been interested in war films and guns and helping the country. I did a service and it saved lives. I helped put people back together, people of all different nationalities."

Bob still manages to play a vital role in the Army Reserves, instead offering hand to recruitment, where at the moment there is a shortage of Army Reserves.

He works full-time at Sheffield's 212 Army Reserve Field Hospital on Endcliffe Vale Road, which is the regimental headquarters for the region.

He is encouraging more people to join the Army Reserves, a job that he says is great - but not for everyone.

"It's a challenge, you get to see things and do things you wouldn't normally. It's completely different to an everyday job, but it's not for everybody.

"It takes a certain type of person. Sometimes you work in a dangerous environment, but it's not always like that. At the end of the day the army want you for one reason, the day might come when you have to go to a war zone. The chances are very slim, but that's' what you're signing up for."

To become an Army Reserve, or to find out more you can email Bob on [email protected],